The UK’s nuclear deterrent could be moved abroad if Scotland becomes independent, secret UK Government contingency plans reportedly propose.
The UK’s nuclear submarines are housed at Royal Navy bases in Coulport and Faslane on the west coast of Scotland, but “senior officials” have told the Financial Times that secret plans could see them moved to naval bases in the US or France if Scotland voted yes in a second referendum.
The newspaper also reported that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) could keep them within an independent Scotland by buying a long-term lease on the two naval bases, creating a new British Overseas Territory.
However, a spokesperson for the MoD denied there were any plans to move the submarines.
The spokesperson said: “The UK is strongly committed to maintaining its credible and independent nuclear deterrent at HM Naval Base Clyde, which exists to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and our Nato allies.
“There are no plans to move the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde (Faslane), which contributes to Scotland’s and the wider UK’s security and economy, and its supporting facilities are safe for local communities.”
The Scottish Government said it is committed to the “safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland”.
The Financial Times cited “several senior officials” who had been briefed on plans for what would happen to the UK’s nuclear deterrent if Scotland voted yes in a second independence referendum.
According to the newspaper, the preferred option would be to move the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy base at Devonport in Plymouth.
Allied naval bases in the US and France are also reportedly being considered for the fleet.
Another option said to be under consideration is to negotiate a new British Overseas Territory described as a “Nuclear Gibraltar” within Scotland, with the UK Government leasing Faslane and Coulport from the independent Scottish government.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government firmly oppose the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and we are committed to the safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.”
Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Government was re-elected in the polls in May’s election, with the First Minister promising a second referendum on independence.
The SNP agreed a power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens last month, which has put the Greens into government for the first time in the UK.
As a result of the deal, Ms Sturgeon has insisted she has an “undeniable” mandate for Indyref2, as the two parties together hold 72 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP has long opposed the UK’s nuclear deterrent, and has previously called for Trident missiles not to be renewed.
Last month, Alex Salmond has claimed Scotland could get rid of Trident on “day one” of independence despite previously accepting it would take years.
The former First Minister’s latest position on the nuclear deterrent at Faslane and Coulport will be put to members of his Alba party at its first conference this month.
The 6000-member party is expected to back the policy in a “clear commitment to the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde”.
Alba also wants a windfarm built at the site of the current warhead depot.
The timetable, which is intended to highlight differences with the SNP’s more gradual approach, is at odds with the one Mr Salmond endorsed while in government.
The independence prospectus he published in 2013 alongside Nicola Sturgeon said the “speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons” should be a priority, but accepted that it would not be instant.
It said talks with London “would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish Parliament following independence”, noting that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had suggested it could take two years to dismantle Trident.
The Royal Navy submarine base as Faslane and the associated weapons store at nearby Coulport are the only available sites in the UK for Trident.
Experts believe it would take years to adapt another site in England, such as Devonport or Barrow.